Lisa Bubert

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Meet King Lion, who rules all the happy animals and smiling people below his balcony. He should be the happiest of all in this happy city, but instead has a very big problem: Hidden away in his tall castle, he is an awfully fearsome creature without a friend in the world. 

Not one to let his own kingdom get the better of him, King Lion sets out into his city to find himself a friend. But when he shouts “Hello!” all anyone hears is a “deafening roar.” When he waves his paws to greet a pal or opens his mouth for a large smile, all anyone sees are his “dangerous claws” and “dripping jaws.” 

But one little girl isn’t so sure. Like the king, she is also lonely. Could they . . . be friends? 

King Lion, written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett, promises to be an immediate hit with librarians, teachers and young readers everywhere. The prose lends itself well to a group read-aloud, giving plenty of opportunities to roar and expose those fearsome claws and jaws. This picture book would also provide a more intimate bedtime reading experience, giving children a chance to talk about why the King might be lonely, why people are afraid of him and how it might sometimes feel to come on a bit too strong when we are excited to meet new friends. The illustrations are lively, colorful and provide many Easter eggs throughout the story that compel the reader to stop and pore over the background, smelling the proverbial flowers and questioning the looks on the townspeoples’ faces: Are they happy? Alarmed? Scared? Sad? Loving? 

King Lion is a heartwarming story for the awfully fearsome and misunderstood creatures everywhere.

King Lion is a heartwarming story for all the awfully fearsome and misunderstood creatures everywhere.
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Quietly and sweetly, before the sun rises, a father finds his daughter already awake in anticipation and places a cowboy hat on her head. This will be a “just us” morning: They will ride the streets of their cityscape on horseback, Daddy on his longtime mare, Power, and our young narrator on her pony, Clover. 

Along with the rest of the city, Mommy and the girl’s little brother are still asleep, but Abuelita is up first as usual, her coffee brewed strong. She gives the narrator a paper bag of apple slices and sends the two on their way. They travel by motorcycle to a backyard ranch in the middle of the city, complete with horse stalls and hay. The narrator splits her apple slices between Power and Clover, enjoying Power’s “soft, velvety nose,” and Clover’s mane that “looks kind of like the hay she eats but feels softer.” Then they brush, saddle up and ride through the streets of the sleeping city until the sun rises and the city wakes up. 

There is so much to love about My Daddy Is a Cowboy, a gorgeous book that celebrates Black urban horsemanship. The illustrations by C.G. Esperanza are breathtaking, awash in color with bold swaths of paint that make sharp contrasts between the dark predawn and the splashes of color from Daddy’s purple jacket, the narrator’s hair beads and her little leather cowboy boots. Their facial expressions are captured so perfectly: You can see the wonder on the child’s face as they ride, as well as the love in Daddy’s eyes as he watches his little cowboy continue a sacred tradition. Readers can look at their faces and call to mind someone they love dearly, remembering all the times they shared together over something special and intimate—something for “just us.” 

This book hits all the high points of Black cowboy culture and will be a must-have on the shelf for all budding enthusiasts eager to see themselves represented authentically and beautifully. Giddyup! 

There is so much to love about My Daddy Is a Cowboy, a gorgeous book that celebrates Black urban horsemanship.
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STARRED REVIEW
March 11, 2024

Reading not required: 3 wordless picture books

See the world anew with three wordless picture books that compel the reader to narrate their own story through unique artwork.
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Book jacket image for The Last Zookeeper by Aaron Becker

The Last Zookeeper

The Last Zookeeper is beautifully drawn with spare pencil lines and watercolor washes, and provides a conversation starter for older children who may be wondering ...
Read more
firstdayofmay

The First Day of May

The weather forecaster announces a sunny day from the television; the window is aglow with the bright sunlight; a new page is turned on the ...
Read more
Book jacket image for One Giant Leap by Thao Lam

One Giant Leap

Thao Lam dives into the unknown of a child’s imagination, reminding readers that intrigue lies around every corner and every day is an opportunity for ...
Read more

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See the world anew with three wordless picture books that compel the reader to narrate their own story through unique artwork.
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Somewhere in a big city, there are two different babies having two similar, yet different days. Across a “beep-beep street” and along “two bumpy sidewalks,” this baby and that baby wave at each other “at the very same time.” Both babies go on various adventures—giggling on their grown-ups’ laps, kissing their lovies, reading books, making music and pausing for the several inevitable diaper changes of the day—before going out to the park for a surprise play date that ends with a fun peek-a-boo.

This Baby. That Baby. by Cari Best and Rashin Kheiriyeh is a wonderful addition to your reading list and a great picture book to share with the parents and children in our community. Reminiscent of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, this book celebrates all the ways two different babies experience the same expressions of love: playtime, a good book, snuggling and friendship. One, dressed in a blue onesie, sits on a mother’s lap, while the other wears a little red floppy hat to match a father’s red ball cap. Kheiriyeh’s simple, whimsical illustrations create a nursery atmosphere, which is alluded to by the opening and closing pages showing different mobiles that may hang above a baby’s crib. The rhyme scheme is lovely and balanced, making for an engaging read-aloud book that will be a go-to for any classroom, library or nursery.

Hello, This Baby. That Baby.: Welcome to the shelf!

Rashin Kheiriyeh’s simple, whimsical illustrations and Cari Best’s lovely and balanced rhyme scheme make for an engaging read-aloud book that will be a go-to for any classroom, library or nursery.
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One little person suits up in their warmest boots, gloves, scarf and hat to make one giant leap into the wintery unknown. They ride the elevator down to the first floor. . . . Or, wait, are they riding a spaceship? In One Giant Leap, a wonderfully inventive ode to imagination, snow is not snow: it’s moon dust. A pigeon is not a pigeon: it’s an extraterrestrial being (or two, or three). Like any good adventure, there is a moment where all may be lost. Will our little astronaut make it back to their spaceship before the duststorm fills the space sky?  

With papercut collage illustrations that play with color and pattern, Thao Lam dives into the unknown of a child’s imagination, reminding readers that intrigue lies around every corner and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure.

Thao Lam dives into the unknown of a child’s imagination, reminding readers that intrigue lies around every corner and every day is an opportunity for a new adventure.
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A child cooped up in a small house all winter receives wonderful news. The weather forecaster announces a sunny day from the television; the window is aglow with the bright sunlight; a new page is turned on the calendar: Today is The First Day of May. First, the child is stopped by a pair of adult legs and a disembodied hand that reminds them to put on their shoes. Shoes on, the child is released into the spring day, in a moment of wonder captured by their starry eyes taking in a vast overhead sky. No time to waste, the child is off—flitting around to explore the surrounding fields and forests, watching the birds, chasing butterflies, dancing to the cricket’s song. This most perfect day concludes with the return of the disembodied adult hand bringing the child a cup of tea and tucking them in for a nap in the forest among the flowers, as birds and animal friends look on lovingly. 

This Portuguese import is pure joy: all smiles and cartwheels and bright primary colors. Henrique Coser Moreira’s art is simple but incredibly expressive with its high contrast colors, making this picture book easy for a young child to follow, while compelling adult readers to also remember the joys of all our firsts.

The weather forecaster announces a sunny day from the television; the window is aglow with the bright sunlight; a new page is turned on the calendar: Today is The First Day of May.
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A flood has returned to the Earth. This time it’s not a man but a robot who is there to save all the animals and ferry them to a new world. Large, sturdy and able to traverse any distance, watery or not, the robot cares for the animals, feeding bamboo to the pandas and fish to the tigers. But the robot knows it needs more to sustain this world for the animals. The robot builds a large boat for all the animals—a callback to Noah’s Ark—and carries them through vast stormy seas until they find another robot friend to whisk everyone by air to a new island teeming with life and opportunity. 

Aaron Becker’s The Last Zookeeper is beautifully drawn with spare pencil lines and watercolor washes, and provides a conversation starter for older children who may be wondering about their role to play in a world that needs everyone’s help in order to survive. 

The Last Zookeeper is beautifully drawn with spare pencil lines and watercolor washes, and provides a conversation starter for older children who may be wondering about their role to play in a world that needs everyone’s help in order to survive.
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Pull up a chair at this family’s joyful and very chaotic family dinner. Multiple generations are here—Grandma and Grandpa, Mommy and Papi, Brother and Sister, Tía and Tío, the dolly and the doggie—for an evening meal filled with their favorite foods: enchiladas, ravioli, meatballs and guacamole. But everyone’s favorite part of the meal? Passing the baby!

Passed around the table like a favorite dish, the baby is the rambunctious heart of Pass the Baby. Young readers will love to sing this picture book’s refrain, “Baby, baby, pass the baby!” as the baby is lifted above smiling faces with eager arms.

While author Susanna Reich’s bouncing rhymes flow (just as the baby does from hand to hand) and capture the ebullient joy of a large family meal, illustrator Raúl Colón performs the heavy lifting of bringing the story to life. In Colón’s artwork, the baby cannot be contained; the food is flying everywhere; messes that the dog is all too happy to clean up are made by flying arms and legs. Laughter or alarm appears on all the faces at the table, depending on who is next in the baby’s path. The call becomes one of necessity—pass the baby so Grandma can clean up the coffee the baby has spilled; pass the baby so she will stop piling cake and cookies, “very, very, VERY high”; pass the baby because her flailing legs just kicked Papi in the nose!

While the story possesses lovely verses, it could benefit from more regular pacing with the “pass the baby” refrain. Pass the Baby might be a bit too long for a group storytime read, but it will be excellent for any child who loves to take time enjoying a book’s illustrations. The strong duo of Reich and Colón bring this diverse, riotous family meal to life and will have readers asking for seconds, please.

The strong duo of Susanna Reich and Raúl Colón bring this diverse, riotous family meal to life and will have readers asking for seconds, please.
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Run away to Granny’s house, where the fields are vast and grassy and the pecan tree is old and tall and perfect for climbing. But before we can do that, a girl named Nell must bury a seed in a pot. Before we can find out how high we can climb in that pecan tree, Nell must water a sprout. Before we can discover “a nest filled with eggs” and witness “three chicks hatching free,” Nell must ensure that her potted seedling gets plenty of sunlight. And before we can find treasures (“a long strip of bark / and a shell / and a stone / and a leaf flecked with holes”), Nell must plant her tree in the ground. 

In Nell Plants a Tree, author Anne Wynter draws on many of the techniques that made her debut picture book, Everybody in the Red Brick Building, so successful. She leverages her eye for detail to highlight the loveliest moments of a child’s day spent playing in a field, finding the ideal spot for reading at Granny’s house and baking a delicious pie with the tree’s pecans. Wynter’s prose is spare, lighting like a little blue bird on the moments that matter, and it combines with Daniel Miyares’ recognizable ink and gouache artwork to skillfully elicit the feel of a lazy summer day.

Wynter’s text travels back and forth in time, as do Miyares’ illustrations. We see, for instance, Granny pouring lemonade for her grandchildren as they all gather on her porch, then we turn the page and find a young Nell giving her sprout a drink from a metal watering can. Nell’s and Granny’s dresses are similar shades of yellow, offering a hint that the young girl and the grandmother are the same person. This becomes clear as Nell’s tree grows along with her, her children and then her grandchildren. 

Text and image couldn’t be better paired than they are here. The concept underlying Nell Plants a Tree is a tricky one that would be difficult for any writer and illustrator to pull off, yet Wynter and Miyares succeed handily. Generations of readers will be inspired by this sweet story to plant seeds of their own.

Author Anne Wynter’s prose lights like a little blue bird on moments that matter in this sweet, spare picture book.
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Dani’s drab days are revived by color and beauty when a tree is planted in the “sometimes dusty, sometimes puddly” hole in the sidewalk in front of her home. Now, instead of waking each morning to the clamorous cacophony of city traffic, Dani greets her day with birdsong from nesting friends outside her window. 

Dani quickly learns that the tree is so much more than just a tree: It’s also a helpful guide to dressing for the weather (“leaves fluttering said breezy today . . . branches bending said bundle up”), a soothing, protective presence against the city’s noise and pollution and a listening ear for Dani’s “stories, wonders, worries” and more. 

Some people don’t seem to appreciate the tree as much as Dani does. She finds signs tacked to its bark and trash dumped around its trunk, and she even sees a dog doing its business beneath its branches! But Dani and a group of kindhearted neighbors work together to care for the tree so that everyone will be able to enjoy it for years to come. 

The City Tree highlights a special relationship that will be instantly recognizable to any child who has their own beloved city tree. Author Shira Boss’ text is lovely and engaging, filled with creative and vivid turns of phrase. Dani’s sidewalk is “a carpet of concrete,” for instance, and when winter comes, the tree’s bare branches “rested like paintbrushes in a cup.” Four pages of illustrated back matter elaborate on the importance of urban trees and how city dwellers can support such trees, providing resources for further investigation. 

Illustrator Lorena Alvarez goes above and beyond to make The City Tree shine, telling her own story right alongside Boss’ prose. She builds a wonderful contrast between the cold, gray hues of Dani’s city street that give way to the slow spread of bright, saturated colors once the tree is planted. Page by page, the windows of the buildings around the tree fill with more people following creative pursuits—bakers, sculptors, musicians, designers, all seemingly inspired by the new burst of life heralded by the tree. Alvarez also incorporates subtle examples of all the ways the neighborhood cares for the tree, from building birdhouses and planting flowers around its base to picking up litter and recycling. 

It can be easy to imagine cities as places disconnected from the natural world, but The City Tree is an excellent reminder that nature can flourish wherever it’s nurtured—even outside your own window. 

It’s easy to imagine cities as disconnected from the natural world, but The City Tree is an excellent reminder that nature can flourish where it’s nurtured.
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When the tragic deaths of his parents leave a young boy named Harish alone to fend for himself and his sisters, he does what he knows how to do best—dance, like the female Rajasthani dancers he watches. But the Thar Desert, where he lives, is not a place where lines blur easily between what is expected of men and women.

Harish doesn’t feel at home inside that strict binary. Golden streaks of joy encircle him as he is captivated by musicians and dancers swaying across the screen. His feet tap, and his fingers sway—but only “quietly, so no one sees.” After donning a ghagra, a choli and bangles on his arms and ankles, the boy “is shiny and / glittery and / NEW.” Then the boy begins to dance and slowly, delightfully transform into a swirling goddess.

Desert Queen is based on the true story of Queen Harish (Harish Kumar), an Indian drag performer known as the “Whirling Desert Queen of Rajasthan.” It’s hard to know what is more praiseworthy in this picture book: Jyoti Rajan Gopal’s spare poetry, which lends itself to the rhythmic sway of the dance it celebrates; or Svabhu Kohli’s exquisitely detailed illustrations, which are rooted in Indian cultural heritage and as bold and daring as the subject they honor. The boy’s initial timidity is particularly striking against backdrops that are anything but quiet.

The story doesn’t shy away from the difficulties of Harish’s life: Jeers and taunts are depicted that cause shining tears to flow. But this grief is shown alongside joy, and readers will rejoice as Harish finds a space as “not  / Boy OR girl . . . But / fluid / flowing / like a dance / in between / and all around.” Together, Gopal and Kohli pay homage to a genderqueer hero who left the world far too quickly. Desert Queen is a fearlessly triumphant depiction of the wonder, magic and sparkle of dance.

Desert Queen is a fearlessly triumphant depiction of the wonder, magic and sparkle of dance.
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Poor Nubby. The plush toy rabbit has been “carried, buried, dropped, dragged, torn, worn, chewed on, sat on, and even used as a nose wipe. Repeatedly.” What a life! No wonder Nubby decides to head off in search of a place where he’ll be far more appreciated than he is at home. 

First, Nubby tries making friends with the real rabbits in the yard, but they ignore him. Next, he joins a neighbor child’s magic show in the hope of achieving stardom, but that doesn’t work out either. Finally, Nubby decides that wealth must be the answer, but he soon discovers that there is no greater treasure than being truly loved.

Nubby is filled with hilarious illustrations and well-written prose that begs to be read aloud. Illustrator Shanda McCloskey excels at creating emotions from simple lines and shapes. Nubby exudes dour displeasure as he’s picked and pulled at, his angry unibrow a single thick squiggle. He can’t speak to protest his rough treatment, since his mouth is merely a thin vertical line descending from a pink triangle nose. Despite the many injustices Nubby endures, there’s also buoyant joy in McCloskey’s illustrations, from the dog who is all too happy to run around the neighborhood with Nubby in his mouth to the gratitude of the boy who hugs Nubby tightly upon his return and, yes, still sometimes uses our hero as a hankie.

Author Dan Richards doesn’t miss a moment for humor in his writing, using repetition and grandiosity to give the story a dramatic flair. This approach might go over the heads of the youngest of readers, who may also be troubled by an image of Nubby lying on the ground, tattered and surrounded by white stuffing, accompanied by text that describes how “the pain in his chest cut deep, deeper than torn cloth and strewn stuffing.” Yet the story’s wit and dramatic tension are sure to make it a crowd pleaser among a slightly older and more worldly readership.

Nubby is a worthy tribute to all the beleaguered, beloved toys who serve as constant, comforting companions through childhood.

Nubby the plush rabbit goes off in search of greener pastures in this hilarious tribute to the toys who serve as constant, comforting companions through childhood.
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“I wake up very early,” says the unnamed protagonist of Nora Ericson and Elly MacKay’s picture book. Too early, the child’s father repeatedly echoes as he rouses himself from bed to make the coffee, wake the dogs but not the baby, and sit outside to watch the sun rise with his little morning companion. 

Ericson’s story is poetic and sweet, one that every adult with a tiny early riser of their own will surely recognize. She pays particular attention to sounds. Daddy goes “shuffle shuffle down the stairs,” the dogs “snuffle snuffle, s-t-r-e-e-e-t-c-h-h-h,” and then “burble burble goes the coffeepot.” Her words compel readers to speak them quietly: “Now the wind is waking. Tickle tickle on my cheeks, rustle rustle through the leaves.” The book’s soundscape gently awakens the mind and makes for an engaging, comforting read.

The book’s warm lyricism becomes truly beautiful when paired with MacKay’s illustrations, which perfectly capture the experience of a sleepy morning routine. MacKay washes every spread in hushed blues, from the deep navy of a bedroom shadow, to the blue-gray steam rising from Daddy’s coffee cup to fog up his glasses, to the nearly white-blue light of daybreak. The book is packed with noteworthy images, such as when the small child, lovey in tow, stands silhouetted in the doorway of Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. In the darkness before dawn, stars twinkle over the quiet front porch. The moon glows above as the family watches from below. “Hello, Moon,” the child says. “You’re lucky, you get to stay up all night.” 

Too Early is an ideal book for adults and children to enjoy together, especially on one of those snoozy mornings when no one feels quite ready to face the world just yet. Go ahead, it says. Snuggle up and enjoy a little lie-in, with coffee for the grown-up, warm milk for the little one and a glorious sunrise to start the day. 

Too Early is the perfect picture book to snuggle up with on a sleepy morning when neither adults nor little ones feel ready for the day to begin just yet.

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